(Just kidding–I’m a 12-month employee I don’t get a summer vacation…but that’s another blog post, right?)
The saying “be careful what you wish for” was never far from my mind this summer when we embarked on the enormous job of replacing all of the carpets in our library. Full of rips, stains, and areas worn so thin you could feel/see the concrete underneath, we desperately needed it, and we had been trying to get it done for more than five years. At around 20,000 square feet and with more than 25,000 books in mostly full-sized, six-shelf stacks we went in knowing it would not be easy, and with the job finally in my rearview mirror, I can say “easy” never entered the picture. I’ve thought a lot about what went right, what went wrong, and what we could have done better and I share some of those ideas with you in case your library ever heads down this road.
One thing we got right was hiring professional movers to assist with the work. When it came to moving the furniture we could not have done it without them. On the flip side, we also trusted them to take the books off the shelves and put them back, which was a huge mistake. Even with assurances that they knew what they were doing, that they were writing things down and taking pictures, it was an enormous disaster beyond explanation. The books were so haphazardly replaced that my staff and I ended up needing to take basically every single book back off the shelf, reorganize, and then reshelve. It took weeks.
Another thing we got right was separating the library into several spaces, and dealing with them one at a time. This enabled us to move things from one space to the other as the carpet people finished areas and began others. This process stalled us out a few times, but I’m glad that we did it as it contained the worst of the chaos to one area at a time.
And — thank goodness we began as soon as possible when school ended. Both the carpet company and the movers thought the entire job would take two to three weeks. It took eight weeks, and even then we were still trying to get the books straightened out.
So, what other advice do I send out into the library-verse?
Hire movers, but deal with the books yourself.
The only room that went well was the room we emptied of books ourselves using carts and placing the books onto tables in a room that had already been finished. Two of us managed to move more than 3000 books this way, and they stayed in order and went back up the same way. The movers had large, multi-shelved carts that they used to store the books while they moved the empty bookcases. If I did this again, I would borrow the movers’ carts, but do the books ourselves.
Take a lot of pictures and notes before you move anything.
You think you know your library inside and out, but when you are staring at a completely empty space where there are normally 12 bookcases and they want to know where everything goes…trust me, it is not so easy. We found ourselves asking each other: “Did we use the bottom shelf in that section?” “Were there five shelves or six here?” “Is that really how the shelves were spaced?” “Are the endcap signs right?” Take pictures of every room and bookcase, measure where all the furniture is, and take notes about everything.
Appoint a project manager who will be there and take responsibility.
I guess we had a project manager? At least there was someone on our maintenance team who was supposed to be “in charge” and to “check in”, but he was never in the library because he was busy working his job. Meanwhile, I was there all day every day, but very rarely did the movers or carpet people come to me with issues or questions — even when I inserted myself into situations. Whether this was pure sexism or because no one told them I was in charge I will never know, but in retrospect, I should have insisted that the bosses from both teams told them I was the project manager. More communication between all of the players definitely would have made the project go smoother.
Be prepared to pivot.
Obviously, a large job like this is going to encounter issues, and some things won’t go as planned. I wanted to move some stacks that in the end I could not (electrical issues — but that’s another story), so we did something else instead. When it was clear the movers were not handling the books well, we stepped in and did some of the work ourselves. This may sound like common sense, but when you’re in the heat of the process it’s easy to forget the basics.
The end of the story is that we have new carpet. It may not be gorgeous (is any industrial carpeting gorgeous?), but it is clean, not ripped up, not buckling in places where people can trip on it, and did I say clean? If any of you plan on embarking on this project in the near future don’t hesitate to reach out for more details.